As nations around the world strive to combat climate change, new technologies are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One promising area is CO2 electrolysis—using renewable electricity to convert CO2 into value-added carbon-based fuels and chemicals. However, realizing this technology at scale requires overcoming key challenges in the development of electrocatalysts.
Electrocatalysts accelerate the reactions at electrodes to drive the CO2 conversion process. But efficiently catalyzing CO2 reduction reactions has proven difficult. The process requires high energy input to activate the stable CO2 molecule, often resulting in high overpotentials. This leads to low efficiency and selectivity.
To make CO2 electrolysis commercially viable, scientists must discover new catalysts that can:
Drive CO2 reduction at high rates but with low overpotentials, maintaining a high electrical efficiency.
Selectively produce target fuels like methanol or ethanol rather than a mixture of products.
Use abundant, non-critical materials for scalability and avoiding supply risks.
Demonstrate long-term stability for sustained industrial operation.
Allow high catalytic activity at the low temperatures optimal for the polymer membranes and cells.
Be produced economically at scale and integrated into electrode and cell fabrication.
Both the cathode and anode reactions require next-gen electrocatalyst innovation. On the cathode side, copper-based materials have shown promise for converting CO2 to hydrocarbons and alcohols. But further tuning through nanostructuring and doping is needed to enhance selectivity and reduce overpotentials.
Meanwhile, non-precious metal alternatives are needed for the oxygen evolution reaction at the anode. Metal oxides like nickel-iron oxides have potential but require optimization for activity and durability.
Researchers are also investigating innovative techniques like computational modeling and machine learning to accelerate electrocatalyst discovery and optimization.
By surmounting these interlinked catalyst challenges, researchers can unlock the full potential of CO2 electrolysis in the urgent fight against climate change. The race is on to develop the robust, selective, and scalable catalysts needed to turn CO2 into fuels sustainably.
The energy sector, responsible for over 75% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, is at the heart of the climate change issue.
The path to achieving the objectives of the Green Deal lies in decarbonizing our current energy production and enhancing energy efficiency. This journey necessitates fresh strategies and ground-breaking technologies.
The Clean Energy Working Group, a consortium of 16 projects from five distinct Green Deal Calls, is at the forefront of this transformation. The group’s primary focus is on decarbonizing energy through the inception and implementation of innovative technologies. These include renewable energy solutions and their seamless integration into the existing energy infrastructure.
Being a part of this influential group, we are addressing key challenges such as:
• Scaling up hydrogen production
• Transforming CO2 emissions from industrial operations into synthetic fuels
• Advancing land-based renewable energy technologies and offshore renewable energy innovations.
Learn more about the Clean Energy Working Group’s projects and their contributions:
A new discovery for the EU funded research projects
ECO2fuel is on the edge of innovation processes and its results are promising since the very beginning of the research activities. Accordingly, the partnership has started discussing about the future use of the Key Exploitable Results which is deeply connected with a clear understanding of the IP-related rights and framework. Now, extraordinary novelties are appearing on the horizon of this crucial steps to take towards use and impact and therefore, we would like to provide some useful insight deriving from our work carried out in the framework of ECO2fuel exploitation strategy.
EU proposal to streamline the rules for standard essential patents, compulsory licensing, protection certificates, and SME Fund services
The European Commission has proposed new rules with the aim of creating a more effective patent system to reduce market fragmentation of the single market, bureaucracy, and improve efficiency. These rules are designed to support companies, especially SMEs, in leveraging their inventions, adopting new technologies, and contributing to the competitiveness and technological sovereignty of the European Union.
The proposed rules will complement the existing Unitary Patent System (which entered in force on the 1st June 2023, becoming the single most important development of the European patent system in the last fifty years. The new system introduced a European patent with unitary effect across the territories of the EU member states participating in the system and the Unified Patent Court (UPC), a new legal institution which will decide on Unitary Patents in these Member States) and they will focus on areas such as standard essential patents, compulsory licensing of patents during crisis situations, and the revision of legislation regarding supplementary protection certificates.
By implementing new regulations, Brussels aims to create a more transparent, effective and future-proof intellectual property rights (IPR) framework in an economic environment where intangible assets such as brands, designs, patents and data are gaining ever greater importance in the knowledge economy.
Main objectives of the proposed regulation
According to the proposal, the overall objectives of this initiative are to:
Ensure that end users, including small businesses and EU consumers benefit from products based on the latest standardised technologies;
Make the EU attractive for standards innovation;
Encourage both Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) holders and implementers to innovate in the EU, make and sell products in the EU and be competitive in non-EU markets. The initiative aims to incentivise participation by European firms in the standard development process and the broad implementation of such standardised technologies.
This is the most recent action in a series of efforts concerning the SEPs and how the SEPs framework could be improved to encourage innovation while also promoting competition and satisfy consumers’ interests. In its 2020 Intellectual Property Action Plan on IP, for example, the Commission stressed the need to set the right conditions for a transparent, predictable and efficient SEPs system; more recent, in February 2022, it invited parties to express their views and experiences in order to improve such system, in particular the transparency and predictability of the licensing framework.
Nevertheless, there are also concerns about the proposed regulation from some actors such as IP Europe and the European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO), stating that the proposed regulation, if adopted, would be detrimental to the functioning of the European innovation ecosystem and ultimately to the European consumers of technologically advanced products making the technology transfer more difficult, increasing costs for IP owners to participate in technical standardisation processes and SEP licensing, which would discourage RD&I actors such as universities and research and technology organisations (RTOs) from participating in the process.
To dissolve these concerns, can be useful the point of view shared by EPO President, António Campinos: “This is an exciting moment for Europe as we strongly press ahead with the creation of a unified market for innovation and technology. The Unitary Patent system will not only simplify and strengthen the legal protection of inventions and their enforcement, but it will also foster the attractiveness of the European market for inventors and investors alike. As the system ramps up, we expect to see a 2% increase in annual trade flows and a 15% boost in foreign direct investment in high-tech sectors in members states because of this change. The Unitary Patent system will be a game changer, sending strong signals to the world that Europe remains a top spot for innovation and economic growth”.
We have no information to understand if the achievements in the last months will be the real game changer for the European R&D sector. The goal is to ease the process for translating the research results in use, enabling strong impact in the EU. ECO2fuel is completely involved in successfully confronting this challenge, working in this new framework.
* EPO is the European Patent Office
Source: EPO.com; WIPO Statistics Database, February 2023
Welcome to the inaugural episode of the ECO2Fuel Perspectives podcast, a pioneering platform where we discuss, debate, and delve into the groundbreaking research in the world of carbon dioxide (CO2) recycling. In this episode, we have two esteemed researchers in the field, Dr. Antonino Salvatore Aricó and Dr. Schwan Hosseiny, exploring the vast potential of CO2 recycling and how it could revolutionize our energy system.
Confronting Climate Change with CO2 Recycling
The episode begins with a frank discussion on the urgency of combating climate change and how CO2 recycling can play a pivotal role in this fight. Dr. Aricó explains the principle behind CO2 recycling, emphasizing its potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and convert CO2 into useful fuels and chemicals – creating a carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative cycle.
The Catalyst for Change: Role of Catalysts in CO2 Recycling
Our experts then take a deep dive into the role of catalysts in CO2 recycling. The discussion encompasses the challenge of achieving multicarbon compounds, the importance of controlling the copper oxide oxidation state, and how catalyst chemistry depends on the products we wish to achieve.
Efficiency and Stability: Two Pillars of Successful CO2 Recycling
Dr. Aricó and Dr. Hosseiny further explore the critical parameters in the field of CO2 recycling – productivity, stability, and energy efficiency. They elaborate on the challenges in maintaining high selectivity towards high molecular weight hydrocarbons while operating at high current densities. They emphasize that not only is initial performance crucial but also the durability of the process.
The Financial Aspect: Cost-Effectiveness of CO2 Recycling
No discussion on the viability of a technology can be complete without addressing its economic aspect. Our experts discuss the key factors driving the cost of synthetic fuels produced through CO2 recycling, primarily the cost of renewable electricity and the capital cost of the system. They also outline strategies to reduce these costs and enhance the process’s economic viability.
A Social Acceptance Perspective: Public Perception and Policymaking
Beyond the technical and financial aspects, the social acceptance of CO2 recycling is also a critical determinant of its success. The podcast sheds light on the importance of information campaigns in increasing the social acceptability of this technology. It underscores the need to communicate the benefits of CO2 recycling not only to the general public but also to policymakers.
The Final Verdict: Is CO2 Recycling Just Delaying CO2 Emissions?
The podcast ends on a thought-provoking note, addressing a commonly asked question – isn’t CO2 recycling simply delaying CO2 emissions? Dr. Aricó dispels this notion, emphasizing that CO2 recycling creates a carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative process, thereby playing a crucial role in decarbonizing our energy system.
Guest: Dr. Antonino Salvatore Aricó
Host: Dr. Schwan Hosseiny
Intro, Outro, Schnitt, Logo: Stephanie Henke-von der Malsburg
The 20th International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Utilization (ICCDU-XX) is set to be a significant event for the discussion and advancement of sustainable technologies. Among the distinguished speakers, De Nora, an Italian multinational company listed on the Euronext Milan Stock Exchange, will take the stage to deliver a keynote lecture on their role in the energy transition and CO2 electrochemical reduction. This article provides an overview of De Nora’s involvement in the field, highlighting the projects SELECTCO2 and ECO2Fuel, as well as introducing the presenter, Daniela Galliani.
De Nora is a renowned leader in electrochemistry and specializes in providing sustainable technologies. With a century of experience in the industry, the company has become the world’s largest supplier of high-performing catalytic coatings and insoluble electrodes for various electrochemical and industrial applications. Additionally, De Nora is a leading provider of equipment, systems, disinfection, and filtration solutions for water and wastewater treatment, emphasizing their commitment to promoting environmental stewardship.
In line with the global shift towards a greener economy, De Nora has embraced the challenge of the energy transition by focusing on two main approaches: hydrogen production via electrolysis and CO2 electrochemical reduction. Through their innovative technical solutions, De Nora aims to contribute to the production of hydrogen, which holds significant potential as a future energy carrier and an essential component of the green economy.
For hydrogen production, De Nora offers industrial-level solutions such as DSA® Electrodes for Alkaline Water Electrolysis (AWE), Electrolysis Cells, and Gas Diffusion Electrodes (GDE) for fuel cells. By participating in large-scale projects, De Nora plays a crucial role in implementing hydrogen as a reactant for future energy carriers and fuels.
Furthermore, De Nora is actively involved in the study and development of CO2 electrochemical reduction through collaborations in financed projects. The company’s research and development teams across three different sites, namely the United States, Italy, and Germany, are currently working on this exciting technology. Their ambitious goal is to achieve efficient direct electrochemical conversion of CO2 into valuable chemicals or fuels, thereby contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the utilization of carbon dioxide as a resource.
During the ICCDU 2023 keynote lecture, De Nora will shed light on their efforts and achievements in the field of CO2 electrochemical reduction. They will discuss two significant projects, SELECTCO2 and ECO2Fuel, which showcase their commitment to technological innovation and sustainability.
The SELECTCO2 project focuses on exploring and developing efficient methods for the direct electrochemical conversion of CO2 into valuable chemicals or fuels. By leveraging their expertise in electrochemistry and electrodes, De Nora aims to drive advancements in this area, ultimately enabling a more sustainable and circular carbon economy.
The ECO2Fuel project, on the other hand, aims to tackle the challenge of CO2 utilization by converting it into a carbon-neutral fuel. De Nora’s contributions to this project will be highlighted during the keynote lecture, emphasizing their dedication to finding practical solutions to the global climate crisis.
The keynote lecture will be delivered by Daniela Galliani, who currently serves as the Program Leader within De Nora’s Energy Transition and Hydrogen (ETH) Department. With a background in chemistry and a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry, specializing in organic electronics with thermoelectric applications, Galliani brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her role.
In her previous position as a researcher in De Nora’s R&D team, Galliani focused primarily on the electrochemical reduction of CO2. Now, as the Program Leader, she manages activities related to diaphragms for Alkaline Water Electrolysis (AWE) and coordinates the company’s research and development activities in the Anion Exchange Membrane Water Electrolysis (AEM WE) field.
A raving success: Trilateral Online Workshop eCCU3 on Carbon Capture and Electrochemical Utilization of CO2 counts 424 participants from all over the world
Without a strong contribution from all economic sectors the net-zero climate protection targets cannot be achieved. Fossil feedstock for the chemical industry and fossil fuels for long-distance transport must be substituted. Therefore, the reduction of CO₂ emissions by carbon capture and utilization (CCU) and an intersectoral carbon cycle economy will be crucial for the transformation of the supply systems in the future.
Benefits of lectrochemical synthesis technologies
Very promising are electrochemical synthesis technologies (eCCU) to produce fuels and base chemicals from renewable electricity and captured CO₂ as they can simplify process chains, reduce components and avoid high temperatures and pressures. In contradiction, the conventional thermo-chemical synthesis routes based on CO₂ and electrolytically produced H2 typically require temperatures >300°C and pressures >20bar for the reverse water-gas-shift reaction and consecutive process steps. Additionally, eCCU reduces the need for a H2 infrastructure, lowers greenhouse gas emissions and offers security of supply and grid stability in an energy scenario relying heavily on renewable power generation.
For the economic viability it is a great advantage to couple the cathodic CO₂ reduction with a suitable oxidation reaction at the anode in order to avoid the formation of oxygen which normally cannot be utilized and would then be released to the atmosphere. Coupling of oxidative and reductive electrosynthesis processes is a key to improve efficiency while reducing costs, wastes and emissions.
Introducing the OCEAN project
That is exactly what is now demonstrated as part of the European Horizon 2020-funded project OCEAN (No. 767798; www.spire2030.eu/ocean) at RWE’s Innovation Center at Niederaussem, Germany.
The process was engineered by Avantium, a leading technology company in renewable chemistry from the Netherlands, and the 6 kWel unit was constructed by the Italian engineering company Hysytech. Potassium formate is produced simultaneously at both electrodes of the electrochemical cell, cathode and anode. At the anode, glycerol – a by-product of the biodiesel production – is the feedstock and at the cathode CO₂ is converted. In consecutive processes, oxalic acid can be produced from the formate as an intermediate for high-value specialty chemicals.
E-fuels will be needed in applications where the poor energy density of batteries or hydrogen is prohibitive (e.g. aviation and long-haul transportation by truck and ship). E-fuels like alcohols and hydrocarbons offer a way to store and transport chemical energy effectively with a high density at a large scale and for long periods of time.
From LOTER.CO2M to ECO2Fuel
E-fuels allow to use the existing supply system and infrastructure and could defossilize the existing vehicle fleet. The project LOTER.CO2M (No. 761093; www.loterco2m.eu) has developed advanced low-cost electro-catalysts for the direct electrochemical reduction of CO₂ to methanol and other important industrial feedstocks, like ethanol and ethylene.
The developed electrochemical synthesis system works without the use of critical raw materials. A containerized 5 kWel demonstrator of the low-temperature and low-pressure CO₂-H2O co-electrolysis has been manufactured by the Belgian technology developer VITO. The LOTER.CO2M technology builds the basis for the follow-up project ECO2Fuel (No. 101037389) which aims at the realization of the worldwide first low-temperature 1 MW direct, electrochemical CO₂ conversion system to produce sustainable liquid e-fuels (C1-C4 alcohols) under industrially relevant conditions.
The OCEAN and LOTER.CO2M units are fed by CO₂ that is captured by RWE’s amine-based post-combustion capture pilot plant. It’s operated 24/7 by the team on site. In the ongoing test program, the performance of the technology is assessed. The operational behavior during startup, ramp up/down cycles, operational parameter variations and continuous full-load operation are evaluated. Both projects have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the grant agreements No 767798 (OCEAN) and 761093 (LOTER.CO2M).
Carbon Capture and electrochemical Utilization of CO2 – From research to industrial application
Without a substantial contribution from all economic sectors the net-zero climate protection targets cannot be achieved. Fossil feedstock for the chemical industry and fossil fuels for long-distance transport must be substituted. Therefore, the reduction of CO2 emissions by carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) and an intersectoral carbon cycle economy will be crucial in the transformation of the future supply systems. Very promising are electrochemical synthesis technologies to produce fuels and base chemicals from water, renewable electricity, and captured CO2 as they avoid the effort of high synthesis temperatures and pressures.
In contradiction, the conventional thermochemical synthesis routes based on CO2 and electrolytically produced H2 typically require temperatures >300°C and pressures >20bar for the reverse-water gas-shift reaction and consecutive reaction steps. Additionally, eCCU reduces the need for a H2 infrastructure and the coupling of renewable power generation and carbon utilisation offers carbon-neutral chemicals and fuels, security of supply, grid stability, and emission reduction.
Critical Raw Material-free Low-Temperature Electrochemical Reduction of CO2 to Methanol The 5 kW demonstrator of LOTER.CO2M uses advanced, low-cost electrocatalysts and membranes for the direct electrochemical reduction of CO2 to methanol and ethanol by low-temperature CO2-H2O co-electrolysis. LOTER.CO2M passes the baton on to the follow-up project ECO2Fuel.
Oxalic acid from CO2 using electrochemistry at demonstration scale The 6 kW unit of OCEAN demonstrates an innovative tandem electro-synthesis: Potassium formate is produced simultaneously at both electrodes of the electrochemical cell, cathode and anode. At the anode, glycerol – a by-product of the biodiesel production – is the resource. At the cathode CO2 is the feedstock. In consecutive processes oxalic acid can be produced from the formate.
The eCCU3 Workshop brings together the international experts from the three European demonstration projects, scientists from various research fields, and the public. It will provide a broad overview of the progress and potential of eCCU. The attendees can follow six presentations on all aspects of electrochemical CO2 utilisation and have the opportunity to discuss the status and prospects of the technology.
The three projects have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the grant agreements No 767798 (OCEAN), 761093 (LOTER.CO2M) and 101037389 (ECO2Fuel).
The ECO2Fuel project will therefore consolidate the EU’s first-mover advantage in the green technology sector and strengthen its competitiveness with an innovative and disruptive technology to meet its emission targets by 2050.
The radical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will require actions in all sectors that are inherently different and difficult, asking for an almost total re-thinking of our day-to-day energy management. This is how LOTER.CO2M was born.
Droughts and wildfires, freshwater shortages, floods, pests and invasive species, food and water wars, and climate migration are just some of the threats we face today with climate change in Europe.
As a forerunner in environmental protection worldwide, the European Union attempts to pull the plug on global warming with its many initiatives, especially the Green Deal. With its 2030 Climate Target Plan under the Green Deal, the European Commission proposes raising the EU’s ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030.
However, this radical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will require actions in all sectors that are inherently different and difficult, asking for an almost total re-thinking of our day-to-day energy management. This increases the hurdle to achieving efficient decarbonisation cost-effectively on time. And while it is true that a green carbon-neutral future isn’t achievable without implementing significant changes, we need to have low-threshold solutions allowing us to kickstart the transition without larger sacrifices to our everyday life quality.
With this in mind, we initiated LOTER.CO2M (This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 under the Grant Agreement number 761093) in 2018 attempting to convert CO2 with renewable electricity and water into carbon-neutral fuels and value-added chemicals in a single step without the need for hydrogen.
By doing this we replace the fossil carbon in fuels and critical chemicals with renewable, recycled carbon from CO2 and ease the transition to a carbon-neutral future without any compromises.
In three years of intensive research and development with partners from the industry (RWE, Bekaert, JohnsonMatthey EWII, and research organisations DLR, CNR, VITO, UVP and DTU) we developed critical raw material free catalysts, membranes, stack and a functioning 5kW CO2 electrolyzer and raised the technological readiness level from three to five.
Today, the electroylzer is operated at RWE in Niederaußem with waste CO2 and renewable electricity to efficiently generate carbon-neutral fuels (mainly carbon monoxide, methane, and ethylene).
Following this success story aiming to further our contribution to the EU’s climate target plan, we head out to upscale the LOTER.CO2M technology to build the world’s first direct CO2 electrolyzer at a 1MW scale and received the support of the European Union. As of October 2021, experts from 15 international organizations from industry and research are working together in the ECO2Fuel project to lift the LOTER.CO2M’s technology readiness level from 5 to 7 and push it toward commercialization for a greener and fossil fuel independent future.
The 1MW ECO2Fuel CO2 electrolyzer will convert 229 tons of CO2 to carbon-neutral fuels and chemicals considering a direct connection to renewable energy sources with an operation time of 2701 hours/year, which translates to converting 85kg of CO2 per hour.
The European Union aims to develop solutions that will assure the carbon neutrality and climate resilience of Europe and to contribute substantially to similar achievements in neighbouring and developing countries in the second half of the century. This very ambitious goal requires a highly integrated approach through the multiple angles of society, economy, technology, industrial value chains and environment, health, land use and governance.
In ECO2Fuel, 15 international partners from the chemical, energy, hydrogen, mechanical engineering and automotive industry, and several research institutions set out to contribute to this goal by building the worldwide first CO2 conversion system to convert 742 tons of CO2 per year into economic and sustainable liquid e-fuels and chemicals. This will be achieved via a novel low temperature, single-step, and critical-raw material free electrochemical route that was developed in the European funded LOTER.CO2M project.
With this, ECO2Fuel aims to contribute to the EU goals in shaping a green future and counteract man-made climate change.
The project aims to demonstrate the potential of this technology on an industrial scale and secure Europe’s lead in the global race for the development of carbon dioxide recovery technologies. “With the international consortium of ECO2Fuel from Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Israel, Greece and the Netherlands, we will be driving the electrochemical CO2 reduction towards commercialization in the coming five years, assuring the leading position of the EU in developing green technologies for a brighter future”, says Dr. Schwan Hosseiny, Project Coordinator and Scientist at DLR.